By MELINDA MYERS
Add a cool refreshing twist to your meals, beverages, appetizers, and snacks with cucumbers. These popular vegetables are grown worldwide, adding anti-inflammatory vitamin K, vitamins C, B-5 and more to your meals. Take it a step further by using your own fresh-from-the-garden cucumbers.
Grow cucumbers sprawled on the ground or in a container on your patio, balcony, or deck. Save space and train them up a decorative support. They make great vertical accents in containers as well as edible and ornamental gardens. Going vertical not only saves space, it improves productivity by reducing disease problems while also making harvesting easier.
You will find a wide variety of cucumbers available from seed company catalogs and on the seed racks of your favorite garden center. Check with your local Extension service website for their recommendations for your location.
Select the best cucumber for your garden space, meals, and snacks. Bush types like Salad bush produce eight-inch slicing cucumbers on a small plant. Spacemaster is a compact plant, spreading 24 inches and suitable for containers and hanging baskets. All-America Selections winner Saladmore Bush is another semi-bush plant that starts producing cucumbers in 55 days from planting.
Green Light is a 2020 All-America Selections winner that produces an abundance of great tasting mini cucumbers. Grow to the other extreme with burpless-type cucumbers that can be harvested when much larger. They have been bred to contain little or no cucurbitacin that causes bitterness and the tendency to burp when consumed.
Wait for the soil to warm and danger of frost to pass for planting seeds one half to one inch deep in properly prepared soil. Plant several cucumber seeds in a large container or in rows or hills in the garden. Space seeds 12 inches apart in rows 36 inches apart. Or plant several seeds in hills (small mounds of soil) spaced 36 inches apart.
Water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil slightly moist. Apply a one- to two-inch layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles, or other organic matter over the soil surface to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and reduce the risk of soil borne diseases.
Watch for the first flush of flowers in 50 to 70 days after planting. The first set of flowers are all male flowers, so no fruit can form. Soon male and female flowers will appear for bees to pollinate and fruit to develop.
Harvest your cucumbers based on how you plan to use them. Pick when one and a half to two and a half inches long for making sweet pickles and three to four inches for dills. Harvest slicing cucumbers when the fruit is firm, green, crisp and six to eight inches long. Burpless-type cucumbers will maintain their flavor at even larger sizes. Check the seed packet for harvesting directions.
With proper selection, planting and care you will be rewarded with an abundant harvest. So be prepared to enjoy, preserve, and share your homegrown fresh cucumbers.
(Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.)